Hardly a ‘reflektion’ of the past: Arcade Fire Reflektor album review
Arcade Fire releases masterful fourth studio album
Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 31, 2013 13:10
Artist: Arcade Fire
Release Date: Oct. 29
When the Montreal-based indie rock band Arcade Fire won the award for Album of the Year at the 2011 Grammy Awards, even lead singer Win Butler was left wondering “what the hell” had happened. Their third studio album, The Suburbs,had beat out musical giants like Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry for the coveted award.
Arcade Fire set the bar quite high with The Suburbs, both in terms of musical quality and critical reception. Luckily, their fourth studio album, Reflektor, is nothing short of a musical triumph.
From the very first track – which shares the same name as the album itself – it’s clear Arcade Fire set out to make a very different record with Reflektor. The listener is immediately transported by the danceable groove that incorporates tribal-sounding drums and distant horns alongside the spacey vocals of the lead singers, Butler and his wife, Régine Chassagne.
As “Reflektor,” progresses, it seems to act as a microcosm of the album as a whole, ebbing and flowing while maintaining a high level of musical complexity that is much more interesting than it is overbearing.
The contagious rhythm of the title track carries seamlessly through the next few songs on the album, with consistent head-bobbing and foot-tapping all but unavoidable. Once “We Exist,” with its bass line in the style of Michael Jackson’s “Bille Jean,” and “Flashbulb Eyes,” with its reverberating percussion and distant guitar and horns, elapse, the listener is given the first truly down-tempo track on the album with “Here Comes The Night Time.”
Though the listener is offered a marching bass line accented with a charming piano riff for much of “Here Comes The Night Time,” Arcade Fire manages to change the entire song into an upbeat emulation of Haitian rara music through sped-up drumming and soaring guitar.
This change in pacing and style works, but it is undoubtedly a curveball that ensembles less-skilled than Arcade Fire might’ve floundered with. This is just one of the many instances on Reflektor that display the band’s ability to create intricate experiences that sound appealing instead of muddy and overdone.
As the midsection of the album evolves, the audience is given songs in a surprisingly wide range of styles and genres. Everything seems to be fair game for Arcade Fire, from frantic-sounding rock numbers in the style of The Black Keys in “Normal Person,” to “Joan of Arc” – a song seemingly inspired by punk rock roots that transforms into a strutting ballad by its end, all while dealing with questions of judgment in terse lyrics.
With “Here Comes The Night Time II,” the band gives another break from the rigor of the previous songs. This atmospheric track abandons harsh percussion and trades it in for calming synth lines and string sections that seem to rise and fall, using “night” as a lyrical theme as foreboding as it is intriguing.
On the back half of the album, listeners are treated to masterpieces like “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” whose melodic chorus stands out as totally unique to the album, and “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus),” whose 1980s-sounding synthesizers are refreshing.
The latter track, which is as groovy as any other track on the album, also partakes in the ebbing-and-flowing tempo changes that are so heavily employed throughout the rest of the record. But once again, Arcade Fire has masterful command over the timing of their work, never leaving the audience wondering why they were being brought up or down.
The record draws to a close with another exhilarating dance track in “Afterlife,” whose motifs of love and loss and the associated tribulations lean toward uplifting at the conclusion of the track.
Reflektor ends with “Supersymmetry,” whose simple composition and clean tribal-sounding percussion leads a duet between Butler and Chassagne that could’ve just as easily come from a track by The XX.
Reflektor appears to be one of those rare offerings that truly offers something for everyone, without sounding as though pleasing the masses was its goal. If precise lyrical craftsmanship over a succinct electronic beat is your preference, you’re just as likely to find it as the listener in search of panting lyrics arranged over bluesy guitar riffs.
Butler, Chassagne and company have created an aural masterpiece in Reflektor, which not only lives up to the hype surrounding the band after their Grammy win, but is also perfectly deserving of a spot on the shelf next to their previous works that have had fans captivated for almost a decade.